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Gosford Park

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Gosford Park

Starring: Clive Owen, Helen Mirren
Director: Robert Altman
Rated: R
RunTime: 137 Minutes
Release Date: January 2002
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Suspense




Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

Robert Altman's GOSFORD PARK goes down as easily as a warm brandy after one of the seven course dinners popular at the enormous English country house where the story is set. Although there's a murder, not much happens in this tale of upstairs and downstairs. This isn't a bad thing as it's Altman's first completely satisfying film since SHORT CUTS, admittedly a much better picture. With his wide connections, Altman assembles a very large, talented cast (Eileen Atkins, Alan Bates, Charles Dance, Stephen Fry, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Kelly Macdonald, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Ryan Phillippe, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson and James Wilby), who realistically recreate the subtle bickering and rigid manners of 1932 England. Watching these actors is sheer delight.

When the guests and their servants arrive for a weekend of shooting, the ritual begins. Downstairs are where most of the rules are in order. The servants receive new names for the duration of their visit. They are called by the names of their masters so as to avoid confusion. The pecking order at dinner is strictly observed both upstairs and downstairs. Your (or your masters' in the case of servants) position in society determines your precise position at the table. Can't have an earl given priority over a marquis. Or is it the other way round? The place settings upstairs would leave most Americans completely dumbfounded. Each diner is entitled to no less than ten eating utensils and five glasses. It wasn't that long ago that their royal ancestors got along quite nicely eating solely with their hands.

Altman places bottles of poison everywhere to clue us into what will happen. Actually this costume drama rather resembles the board game of Clue. In addition to poison, there's also a missing knife, a stray bullet shot and other hints at upcoming events. I didn't notice a lead pipe or a rope, but they may have been there as well.

A murder isn't the only shocking event that occurs. An American filmmaker, Morris Weissman, Esq. (Bob Balaban), in the country to research his film CHARLIE CHAN IN LONDON -- set at an English country house and not in London -- riles the household with his habits. Not only is he an unheard of vegetarian, he is also inclined to carry on long conversations on the telephone. How gauche!

The witty film, which doesn't contain a single prima donna performance from the ensemble cast, has but one sin, a common one with this year's crop of Christmas movies. It's too long. Twenty minutes less would have been just about right.

GOSFORD PARK runs 2:17. It is rated R for some language and brief sexuality and would be acceptable for kids around 12 and up.

Copyright 2001 Steve Rhodes

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